The days of late night study sessions and parties overflowing with keg beer and Cheetos are long behind me, though the memories still linger like they happened yesterday. Some of them I’ll cherish forevs, like meeting my Tribe and working at my first few restaurant jobs in the city. Others, like getting out of a moving cab and laying down drunk in the middle of Second Avenue, I’ll gladly leave behind. College is generally a time in every student’s life when you discover, experiment and learn your tolerance for tequila. What they don’t tell you at orientation is that all this exploration will leave your bank account a bit smaller and your pants at least one size bigger!
The Freshman 15: we’ve all either dealt with it, are presently dealing with it, or are just about to go down the beer-induced little rabbit hole. In NYC, with all the easy-access bars, myriad fast food options and conveniently-located junk food products, avoiding the Freshman 15 is an even trickier path to navigate. Between classes, jobs, studying, staying connected to your old hometown life and trying to develop a new New York life, it can become a challenge to be picky about what you’re putting into your body. The first semester without Mamma’s kitchen to fall back on, students tend to clamor for a quick fix, so they grab & go, not realizing the effects that “grab & go” foods have on our bodies. And I don’t just mean putting on the poundage. This is more critical than mere vanity belies. The scariest part about putting on 15 pounds in four months is how sick it will make you feel.
The time has come for students everywhere to take back their diets and infuse them with real foods. We’re living in a green moment, wherein eating local, sustainable, organic and seasonal is not just smart, it’s cool. And nothing attracts teenagers like the promise of cool! It can be tough to locate delicious and nutritious meals on the go, but not to worry. You have enough to figure out over the next few months; let the FOOD Maven help guide you to soul-satisfying meals across the city. From Columbia to Brooklyn College, I have concocted a list of healthy spots that offer fresh, local food that will keep not only your bank account, but your tummy, happily and healthfully full. As a lifelong learner and former professor, I promise you that if you take my lead, when next asked about the freshman curse you’ll respond like a true New Yorker, “The Freshman 15? Fugheddaboudit!”
15 Best Grab & Go Snacks for the Studiously Inclined
1. Best Alternative to a Fried Donut: America may run on Dunkin’, but Hunter and Marymount students are most likely not getting very far on donuts alone. But who doesn’t like something fried and sugary? Well, when you have three classes and a study session, starting your day with a coffee and two chocolate glazed donuts is only going to send you into a moody day of ADD central. Alices Tea Cup (chapter II) will not only bring you back to reality, but with over 120 different teas it will caffeinate you all day long. Opt for a freshly baked scone like the delectable blueberry or scrumptious buttermilk, and the homemade granola will also keep you fueled and satisfied. For a kick of caffeine try the African Dew: it’s the equivalent of a cup of joe.
Location: 156 East 64th Street (near Lexington Avenue), Manhattan
Hours: Daily 8am-8pm
2. Best Fresh Grocery List: Brooklyn College folks have slim pickings when it comes to choosing fresh, healthy options near campus. With Burger King, Checkers and White Castle nearby, it’s no wonder a lot of the students stick to the cafeteria. Work off all those burgers and fries you’ve been consuming and take a stroll to the Cortelyou Greenmarket. The jaunt will surely be worth it when you can choose from freshly laid eggs and chicken from Knoll Krest Farms, in addition to fresh fish from Gill’s seafood. Also making a new appearance this year are vibrant and appetizing berries from Fantasy Fruit Farm. The Market is open on Sundays so take a study break and head over for a little nature and some good eats; hair net and plastic tray not required.
Location: Cortelyou Road (between Argyle and Rugby Roads), Brooklyn
Hours: Sundays 8am-4pm
3. Best Slice of Pie: Any place that supports and buys their produce from local farmers is always on my radar. Students at FIT are lucky enough to have Fresh & Co. just a few heel clicks away from campus. Fresh & Co. features local farms each week, buying their tomatoes, apples, organic greens and other ingredients. Generic tastes served at Pizza Hut need not apply. A slice of their white Greek pizza with delicious feta, fresh tomato, olives and basil will have you coming back. Fashion and Freshness never looked so good!
Location: 363 7th Avenue (at 30th Street), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Fri 6am-10pm
4. Best Taco: With NYU-ville being my old stomping ground and my current neighborhood, I’m familiar with a lot of what Greenwich Village has to offer when it comes to eating on a budget. And in my ‘hood, Dos Toros Taqueria puts Chipotle to shame…not only in price, but most importantly, in taste. These Cal-Mex menu selections are all under $8, and they take sustainability very seriously (that includes composting)!
Location: 137 4th Avenue (between 13th and 14th Streets), Manhattan
Hours: Mon 11:30am-10pm; Tue-Sat 11:30am-11pm; Sun 12pm-10pm
5. Best Juice or Smoothie (no alcohol required): Drunk punch, chasers and frozen daiquiri mixers all lead you down a path of regret in more ways than one. Students commuting through Union Square should treat their livers to a healthy indulgence at the Juice Bar at Coffee Shop. This little shack connected to the restaurant features all fresh juices and smoothies unlike the frozen fruit concoctions at Jamba Juice. The “Liver Treatment” house specialty blends together hand-picked beetroot, parsley, carrots and ginger to rejuvenate your body, and if you’re lucky, some of the hazy memories from the night before.
Location: 29 Union Square West, Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Sun 7am-8pm
6. Best Way to Brown Bag It: With all the fashionistas going to FIT, I’m sure it’s hard deciding between a cute pair of peep toe pumps or sexy knee high boots. If that indecisive mindset has made you uncertain about your next meal, bring your lunch! My tomato-lemon soup with orzo is the perfect dish that you can sip on all day or devour in one sitting. Going hand and hand with tomato soup is pepper jack cheese on sourdough bread (you can choose a different cheese if spicy isn’t your thing). Adding veggies gives this sandwich an extra kick of originality. Pack everything in a cute recycled tote: JCrew or Ecobags will have you walking to class in style.
7. Best Carbon Free Joint: The saying at Wendy’s is “You know when it’s real,” but there is just something that doesn’t seem “real” about lettuce and tomatoes that are delivered from a truck that’s been driving for six hours. Fordham Rams, get your real on at Otarian. This little diddy just popped up and is the first ever low carbon restaurant chain. Everything that went into designing this restaurant was about keeping it green and fresh, and helping keep you and the Earth full and happy. Take their blazing Tex Mex burger combo with a chocO treat and H2O…it doesn’t get more real than that.
Location: 947 Eighth Avenue (at West 56th Street), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Sat 11:30am-10:30pm; Sun 11:30am-10pm
8. Best Unique Sandwich: Unusual fare is right up my alley, and like most New Yorkers, I’ll try anything at least once…New Schoolers eat your heart out; Quizno subs can take a back seat to Num Pang Sandwich Shop. This tiny shop is almost passable if you don’t keep an eye out. Tucked away on 12th street you can pick up bánh mì inspired sandwiches like roasted cauliflower with Chinese and Thai eggplant spread (soymilk chili mayo) or a seasonal special, ginger barbeque brisket with pickled red cabbage. All the bread is provided by longtime bakery Parisi.
Location: 21 East 12th Street (between University Place and 5th Avenue), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Sat 11am-10pm; Sun 12pm-9pm
9. Best Chicken Fix: We are not in Kansas anymore, or in this case, Kentucky. I don’t discriminate when it comes to all things dipped and fried, but KFC isn’t finger lickin’ good when it comes to fresh ingredients! West Side Market knows how to lure its Columbia students in by lowering prices and making healthy options daily. Who needs a bucket of greasy chicken under a heat lamp when for six bucks you can get an oven roasted whole chicken? Or West Side’s lunch special: one entree with two sides for $8.99? Steamed asparagus or avocado salad with fresh mozzarella and delectable heirloom tomatoes makes it easy to have left overs. For the cool kids in the Law and Chemistry Clubs: the market is tax free when you place orders for the group!
Location: 2840 Broadway (at 110th Street), Manhattan
Hours: 24 Hours
10. Best Group Sharing Restaurant: What do meatballs, carbon neutral and 15 year old balsamico have in common? Well at Pisticci on the Upper West Side, they all go hand-in-hand in making this mouth-watering restaurant a mainstay for the hungry Columbia crowd. The classic spaghetti and meatballs is out of this world. Stop by on a Sunday to split a bottle of wine and share the luscious steamed artichoke appetizer while you listen to live jazz music. Big portions make it very easy to share with friends or the cutie from your English class.
Location: 125 La Salle Street (between Broadway and Claremont Avenues), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Sun 11am-3:30pm, 4:30pm-11pm
11. Best Fresh Snack on the Go: We all know I love the Union Square Market. But Julliard and Fordham just got a little sweeter. There is a farmer’s market smack dab by the 66th Street Lincoln Center subway stop, making it oh so easy to grab fresh produce on the go. With a bright seasonal harvest of apples, tomatoes, avocados, jams, freshly baked cookies and melons, play teacher’s pet and buy your professor an apple…or two.
Location: At the corner of 66th Street and Broadway, Manhattan
Hours: Thursday and Saturday 8am-5pm
12. Best Place for the Lactose Challenged: For those unlucky people out there that cannot consume milk (or any dairy for that matter), my heart goes out to you–and so does Soy Café. The tiny café near The New School caters to those of you who are faint of heart when it comes to milk in your coffee. Soy Café beans are certified fair-trade and delivered from a roaster in Queens, which means less travel time and more freshness! Trying one of the cafe’s many soy creations, like refreshing green tea mango with soymilk blended over ice, sounds a lot better than downing a Coke, and it tastes better too. Another plus to Soy Café: the friendly staff won’t kick you out even if you’re holed up there all day using their free wifi to finish your art history paper.
Location: 115 Greenwich Avenue (at Jane Street), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Fri 7am-9pm; Sat-Sun 9am-9pm
13. Best Dollar Menu: There is no doubt that Columbia kids are smart. But there is nothing smart about eating a Big Mac, or anything “mac’ed” for that matter! Instead, get your buns fixed at Silver Moon Bakery. Fifteen different breads, seasonal soups and even pancake mix are all organic and made daily here. After 6pm, muffins, brioches and pastries are a dollar, sandwiches are half off and rolls are 50 cents. Now that’s a dollar menu.
Location: 2740 Broadway (at 105th Street), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Fri 7:30am-8pm; Sat-Sun (and Holidays) 9am-7pm
14. Best Eggs: If I want to have it my way it is not going to be processed or nuked for 2 minutes and placed between two stale pieces of bread. For my fellow NYU crew, Burger King will just not do when you can have Patisserie Claude. It’s a FOOD Maven’s haven with the intoxicating aroma of freshly baked croissants and the clattering of whisks whipping up their decadent cream and leek quiches. I don’t joke when it comes to taste, and I will go down saying I consumed one (or many) of the best egg quiches I’ve had in this lifetime at Patisserie Claude. And what makes this treat even sweeter? It only costs $3.25. I definitely like it my way.
Location: 187 West 4th Street (between Jones and Barrow Streets), Manhattan
Hours: Daily 8am-8pm
15. Best No MSG: As fun as dorm life can be there comes a time when co-ed living and wearing flip flops to the shower has become old news. The Lower East Side has become home to many students from NYU and The New School, as well as every place in between. Great night life, good eats and cheap rent makes this neighborhood the perfect spot to embark on your first NYC pied-à-terre. Prosperity Dumpling, close to many Chinese take out restaurants, shines in all its glory. Proving that the wait is worth it, with no dirty MSG or chemicals (unlike its neighbors), Prosperity Dumpling informs its customers to allow five minutes for each order to guarantee freshness. Biting into these hot, juicy filled pork or vegetable dumplings, you quickly realize that the wait was worth it, and you’re most likely kicking yourself for not placing a double order! Duh, $1 gets you 5 dumplings, why not double your happiness for 10 for $2? If dumplings aren’t your thing, the sesame bread stuffed with fresh garden veggies will leave you just as satisfied. With cheap prices, you’ll have money left over to decorate your new digs!
Location: 46 Eldridge Street (near Hester Street), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Sun 7:30am-10:30pm